How Komatsu Australia is turning engineering excellence into a growth engine for the business

Komatsu Australia, a key player in the global machinery market, delivers essential equipment, technologies, and services tailored for the construction, mining, forestry, energy, and manufacturing sectors. Renowned for its innovative solutions and reliable products, Komatsu Australia is committed to advancing industry standards and empowering engineering excellence.

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Use Case
Design Review

The Challenge

The Komatsu engineering team faces challenges that will sound familiar to any manufacturing organization with a complex product range. They support 75-80 models of machines spanning multiple industry verticals (utility, mining, and construction) and multiple product categories (trucks, loaders, and excavators).

Komatsu's Small Excavator PC30MR-5

As a distributor of machines manufactured globally at other Komatsu locations, the engineering team in Australia is responsible for making modifications that local customers require:

“The Australian market is unique. As you go from country to country, the regulations are different, the industry standards are different,” explains Engineering Manager Niall Prendergast. “Different customers have their own safety requirements, their own site specific requirements, and even states within Australia have slightly different requirements and legislation. That creates a wide variety of modifications and customization that we need to meet.”

The number of design modifications customers can request creates a high-mix order backlog. Customer demand can also fluctuate throughout the year. New business might come in that wasn’t planned for or the product mix won’t exactly match the forecast. This puts pressure on the engineering team to be agile and respond quickly to shifting customer demands.

“It can be quite unpredictable,” says Niall. “Then it’s a case of: do we have enough flexibility within the team? Do we have enough visibility to understand what the backlog is, and also provide that visibility to our stakeholders?”

The Solution

At a high level, each Komatsu project has three phases: requirements, design, and build. First, a Sales Engineer will work with a Major Account Manager to understand customer needs and translate that into a technical specification. That specification document gets uploaded to CoLab, and the Sales Engineer marks it as “In Queue” using custom tags. They also assign the project a priority level.

As capacity becomes available on the design team, Lead Product Engineers will move specifications from In Queue to In Work. “With custom views in Track, we can create a backlog of queued work for each product group. Then the Lead Engineers can start assigning work off that technical specification to their design engineers,” explains Niall.

Once a specified project is in work, the project enters the second phase – detailed design. Komatsu Australia is in the process of moving the reviews in this phase into CoLab. This will allow them to involve key stakeholders earlier in the process to validate designs.

“We do a lot of design, so we don’t want everybody involved all the time. But on certain key projects– if we’re trying to win a new customer for example– we may find the need to engage different team members or even the customer at the design stage,” explains Niall.

Komatsu plans to use Portals – an area of CoLab made specifically for reviewing designs with stakeholders outside your company – to allow customers to interact directly with design engineers. CoLab’s guest user licensing model gives Komatsu the flexibility to share designs with stakeholders – internal and external – that wouldn’t normally get access to CAD:

“Without CoLab, to provide somebody with that sort of visibility, they’d either have to be present in our office or you’d do an online meeting and share your screen,” explains Niall. “Why not just send someone a link and say ‘Have a look. And if you have a question, just pop your question right on the model.’”

Another key benefit, from Niall’s perspective, is making design communication more efficient:

“My favorite feature is the ability to communicate on the CAD model, so feedback items are tied to a 3D design. It’s actually easier than sending  an email in my opinion. And it reduces the amount of back and forth.”

The Impact

What’s unique about teams working on mining equipment is that in addition to the vast complexity they have to manage, the stakes are really high when it comes to design changes. Design modifications popping up late in a build have cascading effects: 

Of course, there’s a cost associated with making the change. But late stage changes can also hold up the production line and create the need to reschedule machine transportation. Komatsu machines require special transportation because they are so large, and rescheduling this service can cost tens of thousands of dollars. 

These are the same high stakes that every manufacturer in the mining industry faces, but Niall saw an opportunity to set a new bar for the service level Komatsu provides to their customers: 

“These are the types of situations that can occur and result in frustrations. If we can reduce or even eliminate that, it would be a massive win for us as a business and it would be a massive win for us as an engineering team,” he explains.

With mining and construction in a period of high growth, service level has never been more important:

“Customers are buying a significant amount of machines. We’re taking on new customers we’ve never had before, and those new customers are asking for modifications and specifications which we haven’t done before,” explains Niall.

Validating designs with key stakeholders early and often will allow Komatsu to exceed customer expectations and capitalize on all this growth: “It’s really critical to winning new customers and to providing them with a first time experience with Komatsu Australia, where they will return in a few years,” says Niall.

Like many engineering teams, the team at Komatsu Australia works hard to deliver to a very high standard. According to Niall, CoLab makes it easier for them to work together effectively:

“The benefit that CoLab provides is so much visibility, communication, and stakeholder management that a lot of the stress around engineering design dissipates.”

Better products start with better design conversations.

  • Foster more meaningful design conversations by removing collaboration speedbumps
  • Keep your product team and your customers informed
  • Standardize your review process and track everything automatically
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